Financial Tracking, Ledgers and Reports: Getting What You Need from Dental Practice Management Software

It’s easy to get caught up looking at the “bells and whistles” when deciding on what dental practice management software to choose for your practice. However, in my experience, the importance of the software’s ability to track, display and report on financial entries is often not recognized until well after the software has been implemented. By then it’s too late to easily address shortcomings in functionalities such as transaction viewing modes, multiple provider/practice reporting, payment entry/tracking, insurance processing and financial adjustments.

Financial transaction tracking and can be complex and comprehensive depending on specific needs of the practice. For example, the following list shows typical requirements to be aware of prior to purchasing a practice management system so that you can ensure it will:

  • Keep track of separate practice/provider production and receivables
  • Apply payments to specific production transactions if required (Open Item accounting)
  • Display billing and accounting transactions in chronological order or open item, either in a summarized or detailed format
  • Allow Adjustments to correct past entry errors along with a corresponding audit trail
  • Display/print a full audit trail for all adjustments and deletions
  • Track separate insurance and patient receivables for assignment offices
  • Present Insurance coverage estimation by service and account for maximums, deductibles and other limits
  • Print or preview Financial Reports for any date range without requiring month end closing procedures
  • Include Account Holder ledgers that display all family member transactions and accommodate the creation of separate ledgers for family members that become responsible for their own transactions
  • Allow financial transactions/adjustments directly from the patient ledger
  • Easily accommodate input of bulk and prepayments, and set up monthly charge plans with corresponding post-dated payments
  • Maintain multiple bank accounts as required

Patient Ledger Views

There are many ways to present financial information in a patient ledger. The order and level of detail of transactions displayed will determine how easy it is for staff to communicate with patients about their financial history. Let’s look at two distinct views that cover the needs of most dental offices.

The following example – Chronological Order Display – lists all services and payments in the order in which they occur. The dollar value shown in the New Bal column is a running total of the patient balance by date. The blue figures display outstanding insurance payments and the New Bal column gives a running total of the patient balance.

The example below – Open Item Display – lists each service as a separate transaction along with the associated payment (that may have been made on a different date). This is useful for easily determining if a specific service has been paid. The Ins Bal and Act Bal columns display the remaining balance owed per service for insurance and patient balance respectively.

The two examples presented above suggest that dental transactions can be relatively complex depending on the level of detail needed and whether insurance payment tracking is required. Look for a dental practice management system with financial capabilities that provide as much flexibility as possible to avoid disappointment, particularly if you cannot anticipate all your needs ahead of time. 

Financial Reporting

A report such as the one displayed below conveniently provides a complete snapshot of the day eliminating the need to view/reconcile multiple reports.

Example: Cash Summary Report

Accounts Receivable

The following report includes additional detail that identifies potential problem areas.

Conclusion

We have covered the standard requirements that are commonly overlooked when evaluating dental practice management software. There are other types of financial reports and metrics to consider but they go beyond the scope of this blog. 

Assessing and defining your financial tracking needs early on in the process can save you from making the wrong choice and having to live with a number of compromises and time-consuming workarounds.

4 Ways to Build a Better Website for Your Dental Practice

The importance of a strong web presence to the success of any dental practice cannot be overstated. This is why I’ve decided to write a follow-up article to one we published earlier this year on how to maximize your web presence with a strong site. This time, I’m putting a deeper focus on the technical side of things.

As I constantly tell my colleagues in the dental industry, it’s not enough to simply have a site anymore. In order to compete today, you must put in the work to have your online presence noticed and to ensure its relevance week after week and month after month.

Not every clinic has the money to allot big budgets toward paid advertising and so it becomes all the more vital to make organic efforts. But what many people don’t realize is that to achieve organic results, you need to understand what’s going on under the hood, so to speak.

To ensure your site’s success, you’ll need to roll up your sleeves and/or use third-parties that specialize in improving the look and functionality of websites.

Luckily, there are many different ways to engage with users and to build your audience – read on to learn more about how to improve your dental practice website:

1. Update Your Site’s Look and Functionality

Internet content is evolving at an increasingly rapid pace and what looked good three years ago might not cut it today. A dated website won’t inspire prospective patients to take the next step and get in touch. The first step toward improving your site means conducting an overhaul.

The first thing you’ll need to do is to make sure that everything on your site is working as it should be. You’ll want to conduct a thorough audit of your clinic’s website, going through each page looking for:

  • Out-of-date content
  • Missing or poor-quality images
  • Plugins or themes that require an update
  • Broken links
  • Style or formatting inconsistencies

While this may seem like a lot of work, updating your website will pay off in major ways, starting by maintaining your relevance in the dental services marketplace.

You can also improve your site’s performance by checking your analytics – these will help indicate where you may need to make changes. This may seem like a hundred-dollar word, but this simple tutorial will show you the basics:

Once you’ve learned how to access and use analytics, you can start to track:

  • Which pages are the most popular
  • Which pages are engaging users and keeping them browsing
  • Which pages your users find uninteresting or unnecessary

2. Invest in Search Engine Optimization

Some companies swear by what’s known as search engine marketing, paid advertising such as Google AdWords that boost your site’s visibility through a cost-per-click model. While effective, this can get very pricey.

Search engine optimization (SEO) on the other hand tries to increase rankings organically. This is done by identifying which words are most associated with your field, and then using those words – or keywords as they’e called – to buff up your site’s content.

By sprucing up your homepage with keywords, and by running a regular blog (see below) that also includes keywords, your brand will slowly become tethered to the most popular search terms in your industry. This will help your practice climb to the top ranks of a Google search – making it easier to entice new visitors. Although it might seem obvious, make sure your website includes applicable keywords such as:

Dental Exam, Dental Emergency, Dental Cleaning, Teeth Polishing, Perio Scaling, Dental Implants, Teeth Whitening, TMJ, Mouth Guard, Root Canal, Tooth Extraction, Dental Crowns, Family Dentistry, Periodontics, Orthodontics, Oral Surgery, and Child Dentistry.

3. Start a Blog

Speaking of blogs, creating one that’s accessible through your website and posting weekly content will help you to connect with your audience about topics or issues relevant to your business. It also gives you a reason to spark engagement on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

Furthermore, it humanizes your brand, allowing an authentic voice to come out and build brand loyalty. Finally, by including keywords like those mentioned above into your content, you’ll increase search engine rankings at the same time.

If you don’t already have a blog, it can be easier than you think to generate some great content. Here are a few basic blog topic ideas to help you get started:

  • Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Smile
  • 5 Tips for Improving Your At-Home Dental Routine
  • A Simple-to-Follow Guide on Teeth Whitening
  • 3 Signs That It Might Be Time to See Your Dentist
  • Does it Matter Which Tooth Brush or Tooth Paste I Use?

4. Maintain Up Time

Whether you’re a multinational corporation, a simple blogger, a not-for-profit organization, a news outlet, or a dental practice, traffic must reach your website otherwise it is partially closed for business. 

If you are using an unreliable service provider and your site goes down, you’ve effectively disappeared off the internet radar. Essentially, dental practice seekers can’t find or reach you when they need to – causing your credibility to plummet and making it seem to search engines like Google that you’ve received zero clicks or visits during that period and are therefore losing relevance.

Host your site with a credible provider – one who can ensure 100% up time guarantees as part of their hosting package.

I’ve talked before about cyber scamming, and the best way to stay safe is to find a hosting provider that can also help you protect your site from hacking attempts. While you should stay educated and regularly test your site for functionality, also make sure that your provider guarantees automatic updates and maintenance to prevent data leaks.

Staying up and running is integral to maintaining a strong reputation – especially for those who are looking to boost their SEO.

When it comes to websites, remember that a little goes a long way.

Hopefully, these tips will help get your practice noticed and engaging with more of your present and future patients. Continue to visit the ABELDent blog for more on this and other topics.

Treating Dental Patients with Special Needs

Everyone deserves the best possible quality of dental care. If you want your dental clinic to be a place that welcomes all people, it is important to be proactive in your approach to care for one particular segment of the population: people with special needs.

As was recently noted in a paper from the National Centre of Biotechnology Information, the incidence of oral disease is much higher among adults with disabilities than in the general population, in part because people with special needs often struggle to get the same level of dental care.

In my years working in the dental industry, I have become convinced that providing high quality care to patients with special needs is the responsibility of all healthcare professionals, including dentists.

However, there are several barriers to oral health care often faced by those with special needs that every practitioner should be aware of:

  • Language barriers
  • Transportation issues
  • Sensory impairments (including hearing and vision problems)
  • Dental clinics that are not wheelchair accessible
  • Psychosocial challenges, such as a lack of oral health literacy, general dental anxiety, as well as past negative experiences
  • Cultural barriers, including health care providers without training in cultural competency in areas such as disability language and knowledge of how to treat patients with special needs

Adding education on treating patients with special needs to dental and dental hygiene curricula is a major step toward solving these issues, but progress is slow, and in the meantime, it’s up to individual dental practices to stay ahead of the curve.

To make our practices more open to people with special needs and our staff better equipped to provide a high standard of service to all people, we first need to understand both the challenges and rewards of treating these patients. Here are two things to keep in mind as you make your clinic more accessible for everyone:   

 “Special Needs” is a Broad Category

According to the American Association of Pediatric Dentists, in the context of healthcare a special need is “any physical, developmental, mental, sensory, behavioural, cognitive, or emotional impairment or limiting condition that requires medical management, health care intervention, and/or use of specialized services or programs.”

This means there is no single way to make your dental clinic more accessible: instead, you need to approach accessibility from a variety of different angles, always placing the patient at the centre of service.

In some cases, this may simply mean training your staff to be more sensitive to the needs and preferences of patients who may not be capable of using any automated patient communication you may have implemented or who may require additional support during check-ups. In other cases, it may mean making your clinic itself more accessible by removing barriers to entry and interaction with your staff.

In order to facilitate these different needs, it is important to pay attention to the work done by organizations like the National Council on Disability and the Canadian Public Health Association. These organizations have resources available to help you make your clinic more accessible to a broad range of patients.

Every Patient is an Individual

Perhaps most importantly, it is crucial to remember that people with special needs are individuals just like everyone else and deserve to be treated as such.

While technical tools can help you to keep track of needs that each of your patients has, it is also important to avoid stereotyping patients based on those needs. One of the most common mistakes that healthcare practitioners make when dealing with patients who have special needs is to foreground the disability, rather than seeing it as merely one aspect of a complex person.

Taken to an extreme, this can lead to problems like improper or insufficient pain management, or even a misdiagnosis. But even when this isn’t the case, overemphasizing the disability can make patients feel alienated and unseen.  

For this reason, in addition to making sure your clinic can accommodate different needs, you should also strive to foster an environment in which the unique challenges faced by any person aren’t a barrier that keeps them from getting the care they deserve.

This does not need to require a complete overhaul of your approach to healthcare provision: as I have noted in previous blogs, making sure your front-line staff are generally trained to provide engaging and customer-centred care is essential to the success of your clinic.

You should view provision of care to patients with special needs as simply an extension of the high-quality care you provide to everyone who comes into your clinic.

As Sandie Baillargeon, owner of Dental Practice Consulting Services, states in her piece on interacting with clients that have disabilities or impairments, “Removing barriers to communication is the best way of building and sustaining a positive long term relationship with all of your clients”.

If we are to truly extend the same level of care and respect to all our patients, we will need to bear in mind that special needs come in a variety of different forms. Seeing the person rather than the disability is paramount to the provision of high quality service. 

What to Look For in a Dental Office Manager

A dental office manager plays a central role in the smooth functioning of the dental practice. If you want your clinic to succeed, ensure that the position is filled by someone who is passionate about patient care and has the hard skills to make sure that every aspect of clinic business is addressed.  

But what does that actually look like, and how can you tell just from an interview and a resume that someone has the character and experience to run your clinic?

Hiring becomes even more challenging when the person you are hiring is going to be responsible for just about every aspect of the day-to-day functioning of your business.

In my experience, the clinics that have been able to find the best people for the job are the ones that have looked beyond basic criteria like credentials and years in the industry to take a more holistic approach.

If you are looking to hire a new office manager in 2019, here are a few things to consider before you start the search.

Make Sure They Have the Hard Skills

In addition to dental office managers requiring a sufficient grasp of industry norms and standards, they also need to be familiar with the software and service technology used in modern dental practices. 

A good manager should be able to perform the following roles:

  • General office administration
  • Financial reporting functions for accounting purposes – perform basic bookkeeping duties as necessary
  • Organize and help lead (along with the dentist) regular staff meetings
  • Coordinate marketing efforts
  • Budget for office expenses and assist with supply orders
  • Oversee staff scheduling and payroll
  • Cover for Front Desk duties and Dental Assisting (if certified)

This means that when it comes to considering candidates, you should look for the following qualifications:

  • High School diploma and relevant certificates or associate degrees (there are a variety of certificate and degree programs designed to provide dental administrators with a background in medical terminology and dental health safety)
  • At least two or three years working in dental administration
  • Solid and demonstrated understanding of billing and insurance procedures, and a high degree of familiarity with the dental accounting and practice management software

These qualifications should be viewed as the basic requirements needed to be considered for the position – there are additional skills that you should look for if possible.

Experience with management in other industries adds diversity and new ideas. Candidates with backgrounds in healthcare marketing, dental technology and software or dental hygiene can also provide new and valuable perspective to the practice. Remember, dental office managers oversee many operational areas – the more diversified their experience, the better equipped they will be to provide direction to staff members and the practice overall.

Don’t Forget Chemistry and Character

When hiring people for management positions in the healthcare sector, my experience has been that most of the candidates applying have similar qualifications and skills.

That means that you are likely to have a range of candidates who all have the knowledge and skills, but may have very different degrees of competency in other areas. These can be the differentiators in order to identify the preferred candidate.

One of the biggest hiring mistakes clinics can make is by selecting the person who has the most experience, or seems most dazzling in the interview. While these things are important, be aware that you are presumably hiring a person that will be working with the practice long term. Therefore, making sure that the manager you hire has the kinds of character traits you desire – being extroverted, communicative, friendly, confident, and patient-focused – is just as important as making sure they have the hard skills to do the job.

Finding a manager with whom you get along is really important and a candidate who is more personable and friendly but less experienced will probably be a better hire in the long run than someone who doesn’t gel with your team or who has a very different approach to management than the one your team is comfortable with.   

Soft Skills Matter

In recent years – in dentistry as well as other fields – employers and recruiters focus their talent identification strategies around soft skills (inherent personality traits that can’t really be taught). With enough time to train, a new hire can learn how to use various components of practice management software such as automated appointment reminders but you can’t teach someone how to have a higher Emotional Quotient (EQ) or how to be more adaptable.

These days, most candidates for dental management shouldn’t be considered unless they possess strong soft skills such as leadership, communication, collaboration, and even culture-fit. A candidate with these attributes is likely to be better at other areas – there’s a natural synergy.

For example, a leader who demonstrates curiosity will listen and pay more attention to feedback so they can better understand where improvements are needed. And, a leader with a higher EQ is more likely to build on feedback to become more self-aware and learn from mistakes.

Bringing on a new member of the management team is not an easy process, but given how impactful the decision is going to be in the long run, it’s important to make sure you do your due diligence when recruiting.

In summary, consider more than just the hard skills: as any experienced leader knows, character is just as important as qualifications when it comes to building a healthy workplace culture and a thriving business.

Top 5 Ways to Improve the Culture of Your Practice

Workplace culture: it’s one of those terms that seems vague, but actually plays an incredibly important role in the job satisfaction and work experiences of dental practice employees.

Where a workplace culture is healthy and vibrant employees enjoy coming to work, are friendly with their colleagues and rally around each other in trying times to face challenges together. A toxic workplace culture, on the other hand, makes employees feel isolated and belittled and saps productivity.

Workplace culture is especially important in the healthcare industry. Workers at a dental clinic are under a lot of stress even at the best of times, so maintaining good teamwork is essential for the effective delivery of patient care and their positive perception.

Even for offices that don’t suffer from passive aggressiveness and team sabotage, hallmarks of a toxic workplace, it is still worth considering whether your clinic could be more effective if employees felt better integrated and more supported. And, the good news about workplace environments, as Glenn Rolfsen explains in this TEDx video, is that they can be changed:

If you believe your dental clinic culture could be improved, and you want to explore some practical ways of doing so, here are five strategies that I have found to work well.

1. Foster a Culture of Appreciation

Everyone likes to feel their work has been noticed and appreciated and you might be surprised to learn just how much negativity comes from workers who believe their contributions are not being recognized. 

Encouraging your employees to become more appreciative of each other starts at the top, so the best way to foster a culture of appreciation is to intentionally make a point of regularly thanking every member of your staff. Something as small as a cheerful “thanks!” after being handed a folder, when repeated daily, can go a long way.

2. Break Down Workplace Silos

Nothing encourages a distrustful workplace like silos, and in a dental clinic, the problem can become prevalent especially between employees working in the front end of operations and those working in the clinical area.

Workplace silos form when particular departments or sectors do not wish to share information with other departments or sectors. Many employees become frustrated with their company when they identify issues, but can’t do anything about it because the problem starts in another department. Using dental practice management software that integrates administrative and clinical functions well can facilitate better communication between team members.   

3. Invest in Better Communications

Simply having good software tools at your disposal isn’t enough: making sure your employees have been trained to use them effectively is an important step toward ensuring your workplace is more interconnected and your workers more communicative with each other. 

A team that doesn’t communicate well will quickly become a team that won’t communicate at all so it is important to make sure that channels to help employees collaborate and share information with each other are open and accessible.

Holding regular team meetings that give front and back end staff opportunities to talk about what is working and what isn’t is a good way to ensure that negative feelings can be processed in healthy ways, rather than festering into resentment.

Of course, this means that as a leader you will have to make the time to train your staff.

Peter Capelli, the director of The Wharton Schools Center for Human Resources, notes that companies are interested more than ever in workers they don’t have to educate. But his research also proved that when employers don’t put aside the time to train young workers on new software, workflow will suffer.

4. Reward Worker Efficiency

In order for a dental clinic to run well, you need to devote time to problem solve with your team. It is a good practice to present different scenarios and ask team members to collectively recommend the appropriate course of action. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page and is equipped to handle different and difficult situations as they arise. This won’t just make for more effective patient care, but will also make employees feel more like members of a team. 

As I have written before making sure you have a good team is vital and keeping the team engaged is just as important. Rewarding your workers for looking ahead and using their own critical thinking skills to make operations run more efficiently is a great way to build employee loyalty and a healthy workplace at the same time.

5. Encourage Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is one of those terms used so frequently that its now a cliché. “Yes, of course,” you want to say, “I know that being a workaholic isn’t healthy. I take time for self-care and I encourage my employees to do the same.”

Management attitudes – and especially perceived management attitudes – toward work-life balance has a major impact on your overall workplace culture.

Do more than just let your employees know that they can take time off when they need to; concretely foster work-life balance by discouraging working after hours or on weekends when it isn’t absolutely necessary.

A healthy workplace culture is one of those things that can be difficult to define but it is one that is immediately recognizable.

Patients notice when workers are happy and feel supported and making your workers feel valued and appreciated will pay off in other ways as well. Employees that really feel part of a team are much more likely to cheerfully go the extra mile for the clinic.